Playing Cards Process

Who doesn't love playing cards? I've seen so many awesome playing card designs lately, I thought I'd do a couple of my own as miniature prints. First, a little history. It is thought that playing cards first originated in China as early as the 9th century. By the 14th century they found their way into Europe. The suit system of hearts, spades, clubs and diamonds that we're familiar with today evolved over time. Starting with systems created by countries from the East, the French simplified the design, which has since become adopted around the world.

The earliest cards in Europe were originally illustrated by hand and only owned by royalty. The fifteenth century brought about wood-block printing in Europe and they soon became affordable to the masses. These early woodcut decks were often coloured by hand. During this time, playing cards even rivalled religious images as the common uses for woodcuts. I also read that once the cards became available to everyone, nobility considered them to be the work of the devil. Fortunately by the sixteenth century, cards became respectable again and were accepted as part of the social scene.

I collected a lot of images of playing cards from the library and online before I began sketching rough ideas. I was initially torn between using people or animals to represent the King and Queen, but since I've drawn so many animals lately, I thought I should give people a go. As small as playing cards are, designing them is quite tricky, especially when thinking of patterns that can be carved out of lino. They went through many iterations before I was happy with the design. I noticed a few motifs that kept showing up in old and new playing cards such as the King holding a sword and the Queen holding a flower. I wanted to keep these traditions but also added my own personal touch by giving the King a shield and the Queen a small skull to hold the flower. I initially didn't intend to print on both sides of the paper but in the end, it just seemed to make sense. I don't imagine there are too many double sided linoprints out there but there you go.